Convertibles  |  Discussion forums Glossary of motoring terms

Convertible (sometimes called cabriolet in British English) is a car body style with a folding or retracting roof. The collapsible roof section is typically made from flexible canvas or vinyl, although plastic, aluminum and steel have occasionally been used in elaborate folding designs.

When the top is made of a rigid material such as steel it is often referred to as a "retractable hardtop" instead of a convertible.

Unlike a roadster, which may also have a soft folding top, a convertible has roll-up glass windows in the sides, and so the entire vehicle is "convertible" to an enclosed coupé.

Convertibles are usually 2 door models, only a few 4 door models exist e.g. the 1960s Lincoln Continental.

In Europe this body style is frequently called cabriolet or cabrio. When the model has a rigid folding top, the body style is called Coupé Cabriolet ("CC") or coupé convertible.

In the vintage car era, the convertible was the default body style. It was not until 1910 that Cadillac introduced the first closed-body car. A combination of weak engines and public expectation that a car was analogous to a wagon meant that steel roofs were not in demand until then.

Later, convertibles were made less often, possibly due in part to an unfulfilled threat made in the mid-1970s by the United States government to increase rollover safety requirements that may have made auto manufacturers hesitant to manufacture cars that would be unsaleable under those new restrictions.

Porsche Boxster convertible

By the 1970s they had almost disappeared and in 1976 the Cadillac Eldorado was advertised as "The last convertible in America". During this period of very low convertible production, T-tops became a popular alternative to convertibles, especially in muscle cars.

It was not until the 1980s and cars like the Chrysler LeBaron and Saab 900 convertibles that the body style made a comeback.

Also in the 1980s, small sporty family cars such as the Escort xr3i and Golf gti were selling a high amount of cabriolets, and in the 1990s, the Mazda MX-5 again cemented the convertible as the sports car body style of choice.

Today, there are scores of convertible cars offered by nearly every manufacturer.

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